U.S. airstrikes targeting a meeting of Taliban leaders killed a high-ranking commander involved in the kidnappings of 23 South Koreans two months ago, Afghan officials said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, NATO reported that another of its soldiers had died in an explosion in Afghanistan, where violence has soared this year amid a Taliban-led insurgency.
Mullah Abdullah Jan, the Taliban commander of Qara Bagh district in Ghazni province, was among 12 killed in the strike on a mud-brick housing compound overnight in neighboring Giro district, said Ghazni provincial police chief Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai.
The U.S.-led coalition said "several" suspected militants were killed and four detained during an operation in Giro that included gunfire and airstrikes, but it could not immediately confirm that Jan was killed.
Jan was the fifth Taliban commander allegedly involved in the abductions who has been reported killed in recent days, and believed to be the highest-ranking one eliminated so far. Jan watched as his fighters stopped and kidnapped a tour bus carrying the South Koreans in July, Ahmadzai said.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry on Sunday said police had killed three Taliban commanders allegedly involved in the abductions. Another, a Mullah Mateen, was said to be killed in fighting earlier in the month.
There have been several military operations in Ghazni since the release of the last of the captives on Aug. 30, possibly reflecting the desires of the Afghan government or U.S. and NATO forces to assert authority over the rebellious southeastern region following the abductions.
Two of the Korean hostages were slain soon after the kidnappings on July 19. Two women were released later during the Taliban's negotiations with South Korea. The remaining 19 were freed after further Taliban-South Korean talks.
An explosion Monday killed the NATO soldier and wounded another in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Tuesday. The NATO statement did not provide any further details about the incident or the nationality of the victims.
In Helmand province, meanwhile, a gunbattle in Garmser district Monday killed six suspected Taliban, while nine others were killed in an airstrike in Kajaki district, the Ministry of Defense said.
More than 4,300 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials.